VIPs take farewell tour of Baltimore's fabled field of memories

Stadium artifacts identified by experts

March 12, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Amid hip-high weeds and scraps of torn turf, nearly 100 sports-connected folks convened yesterday at Memorial Stadium to share tales and a curtain-call farewell to Baltimore's venerable field of past dreams.

As VIP guests of the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Babe Ruth Museum, they toured the 46-year-old stadium for a final assessment of what should be saved or sold before the facility is razed to make way for a planned senior citizen housing community and a YMCA aquatics and gymnastics center.

Built in 1954, Memorial Stadium was the home field for the Ravens football team in 1997. Its final Orioles baseball game was in 1991, before Camden Yards opened.

Ed Kline of the stadium authority, which has designated the Babe Ruth Museum staff to identify artifacts worthy of preservation or sale, said the stadium will be taken down during the next year. A specific date has not been set.

By May 2001, the 33-acre property on 33rd Street should be ready to be turned over to a developer, officials said last month when development rights were awarded to Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. and the YMCA.

"Every collectible -- seats, signs, plaques, benches, lockers, whatever -- must be tagged and carried out or be ready for removal by March 27," said John W. Ziemann, president of the Baltimore Ravens marching band. Ziemann, whose organization has bridged Baltimore's football past and present, will coordinate the effort for the Babe Ruth Museum.

How much money a sale of artifacts would raise is unknown, but seats sold for $200 to $250 after stadiums in Chicago and Cleveland were torn down, said Gordon M. Thomas, a member of the Ballparks Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research, who was at the tour.

Sale revenue would help defray demolition costs of about $6 million, which is about what it cost to build Memorial Stadium. The stadium was dedicated to all who fought and died in U.S. wars.

Its distinctive facade with the silver inscription, "Time Will Not Dim the Glory of Their Deeds," likely will be relocated at a memorial to be erected at Camden Yards.

Most tour members yesterday ignored peeling paint and falling ceiling tiles, broken railings and hanging wires.

They chose to remember a young vice president named Richard M. Nixon throwing out the first first pitch in 1954. And Brooks Robinson fielding ground balls at second base in the 1950s when then-manager Paul Richards noted the rookie's limited range and suggested he'd make a better third baseman. And the sight of a small airplane crashing into the empty upper deck in 1979.

"I walked in and immediately thought of my father bringing me here so many years ago," said David Hoffberger, son of the late Orioles owner, Jerry Hoffberger.

For Bob Brown, former Orioles public relations director, the mezzanine press box was the room "where I spent more time than in any other place in the world."

Vince Bagli, WBAL-TV's longtime sportscaster, recalled standing beyond the right-field fence and dreaming of working in the stadium press box, where he later watched and broadcast Colts and Orioles games.

Stan White, a Colts linebacker out of Ohio State, recalled the awe of his rookie season, entering the same locker room with Hall of Fame quarterback John Unitas.

When the Ravens' band serenaded tour participants yesterday with the old Colts' fight song, White said he could "feel" the roar of 50,000 screaming fans all over again. Above the group, a "Ring of Honor" on the facade of the mezzanine bore the names of football Hall of Famers John Mackey, Jim Parker, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Unitas and their baseball counterparts, Frank and Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer, as well as broadcaster Chuck Thompson.

Two of the faithful at every Colts home game were Bill Gattus and Reds Hubbe. They returned yesterday to yell, as always, "Gimme a C Gimme an O "

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